Adapted from PieceofLayerCake’s Jjukumi Gui Ssäm
When I recently heard about the Korean dish jjukkumi gui and saw a picture of the bright red, gochujang-smothered tentacles, gently curled into whimsical gestures, I wondered where this dish had been all my life. Octopus, although intimidating to many in American culture, is one of my favorite proteins to cook because of its tender, toothsome texture, and this treatment of the cephalopod promised to be delicious. It’s an enticing bite of Korea, and yet oddly familiar in the way that it checks all the boxes of successful Western barbecue: a little sweet, a little spicy, a little tangy, a little smoky. Traditionally, jjukkumi gui would be lightly grilled; I give instructions for the grill, but also offer pointers for a good sear in a cast-iron skillet, if you’re worried about losing any octopus between the grill grates (it depends on the size of the octopus and whether you cut it into pieces).
Great as a snack at your next barbecue (‘tis the season!), served as a lettuce wrap or over kimchi fried rice, you can customize the way you cook and serve the jjukumi gui to make it your own—however you choose to do it, this will definitely be a hit.
For the octopus:
2 pounds baby octopus,* cleaned and dried thoroughly with a paper towel (this prevents splattering when they eventually hit the heat)
4 tablespoons gochujang
2 TBSP gochugaru (red pepper powder)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
4 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 TBSP vegetable oil, plus more, as needed
Toasted sesame seeds, for serving
Ssämjang, for serving (optional)
Steamed white rice, or, better yet, kimchi fried rice, for serving
*You can either leave the octopus whole, or bisect it into the head and legs. If you leave it whole, you’ll want to make sure to manipulate it with tongs and really get each part of the body to have good contact with the pan. It’s easier to get an even sear if you cut the octopus into pieces, but doesn’t make for as dramatic a presentation.
For the quick-pickled salad:
4 small seedless cucumbers, sliced thinly
1 bunch scallions, sliced thinly
2 cups Savoy cabbage, sliced thinly
½ cup rice wine vinegar
4 teaspoons granulated sugar
Combine the gochujang, gochugaru, soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and sesame oil in a resealable gallon bag. Add the octopus, seal the bag, and massage the marinade into the octopus, so that they’re all evenly coated. Marinate 2-3 hours in the fridge, or overnight.
Combine the cucumbers, scallions, rice wine vinegar, and granulated sugar in a resealable gallon bag and allow to chill for 2-3 hours or overnight, massaging the bag once in a while to make sure everything is coated and pickling evenly.
Set a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat and add the vegetable oil. Drain the extra marinade from the octopus in a colander. When the skillet’s good and hot, add a batch of the octopus, one at a time to let the extra marinade drip off (you want to sear these, not boil them), until the skillet is full but not over-crowded. Cook for 3-4 minutes, turning the octopus often so that it can cook on all sides. Be sure not to over-cook them, or they’ll be rubbery rather than tender and succulent! (If you want to grill them instead, set the heat on the grill to medium, wipe the grates well with vegetable oil, and cook the octopus for 3-4 minutes, turning frequently.)
Pile the rice onto individual plates, top with some of the quick-pickled salad, then the octopus, then the sesame seeds. Serve with ssämjang as a condiment, if desired.